Evan Ferguson didn't suffer in the Gakpo comparisons until crude Fabinho tackle

Ferguson's performance at the Amex will have provided encouragement for those who hope he can fill the goalscoring gap that has been gaping ever since Robbie Keane retired.
Evan Ferguson didn't suffer in the Gakpo comparisons until crude Fabinho tackle

Liverpool's Joe Gomez (left) and Brighton and Hove Albion's Evan Ferguson battle for the ball during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at the AMEX Stadium, Brighton. Picture: John Walton/PA Wire. 

Brighton & Hove Albion's sizeable group of new Irish fans will have had mixed feelings towards the end of FA Cup victory over Liverpool on Sunday. They will have cheered the dramatic last-minute winner from Kauro Mitoma but winced moments earlier with Evan Ferguson was clattered by Fabiinho and hobbled gingerly off the field.

The 18-year-old is tipped as the Republic’s next ‘big thing’ after making his international debut last November - and he’s part of a Brighton team that’s really worth watching.

His performance at the Amex will have provided encouragement for those who hope he can fill the goalscoring gap that has been gaping ever since Robbie Keane retired.

The former Bohemians man is only just introducing himself to a Premier League audience, but he’s been talked about ever since making his senior debut aged just 14 in a friendly fixture against Chelsea – and calmly setting up an equaliser in the 88th minute.

Former Bohemians manager Keith Long will tell you the youngster was always destined for a career in England and that Brighton, perhaps surprisingly, beat off a challenge from Liverpool to bring him to their Academy in 2021.

That made this FA Cup tie against the Anfield giants even more poignant, especially as Jurgen Klopp has just paid €50m for Cody Gakpo, another tall and mobile forward. This was an opportunity to see them in juxtaposition.

Although Ferguson did not prove to be the match-winner, he didn’t suffer in the comparison and we can only hope that his late injury is not serious.

What’s exciting for the teenager is that he has timed his arrival into professional football perfectly, because the trend to utilise a big, mobile and skilful centre-forward is growing again.

When Barcelona went for small and skilful in the 2000s and Manchester City won the title last year without playing a striker at all, the game looked all but over for the big man up front. Not anymore.

Of course, some clubs never moved away from the model – think of the influence that Didier Drogba and Diego Costa had on Chelsea, for instance.

But Liverpool’s ‘holy trinity’ of Salah, Firmino and Mane was all about pace and technique and City preferred a Sergio Aguero to a big number nine.

Now the tactical wheel is spinning again. City have Erling Haaland up front, Manchester United just bought Wout Weghorst, Ivan Toney has shone for Brentford - and Ferguson is winning rave reviews for the Seagulls.

He showed why again here.

The 18-year-old doesn’t look like a teenager and is not short of confidence, either.

In fact, to call him a ‘big man’ is disrespectful. This is a player able to hold up the ball, provide clever lay-offs and skilful touches, press with energy and score all types of goals.

His textbook header against Leicester last week showed he is strong in the air, but other finishes this season have been taken clinically and instinctively with his feet.

Against Liverpool, he didn’t look out of place, playing up front with experienced Danny Welbeck behind him but missed his one big chance.

The County Meath man, who signed a contract until 2026 on his 18th birthday, had a shot cleared off the line from a Solly March cut-back in the first half, and will no doubt believe he should have scored.

He also set up a chance for Mitoma with a clever flick and survived a physical battle with giant Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate, who blocked his 80th-minute effort when glory beckoned.

In fact, it took a cynical challenge from Fabinho, who was issued a yellow card and survived a VAR check for red, to end his afternoon.

The Brazilian's rueful look, having launched himself into Ferguson's achilles, suggests he knew he was fortunate to stay on the field.

With both sides cancelling each other out, after first-half goals from Harvey Elliott and Lewis Dunk, Mitoma made sure it was an ecstatic night for Brighton supporters.

The club has a string of other young Irish players, including recent new signing Mark O’Mahony from Cork City and Under 21 stars Andrew Moran, James Furlong and Killian Cahill. And that’s not to mention Aaron Connolly, currently on loan at Hull, and Republic legend Shane Duffy, on loan at Fulham.

In fact, the Seagulls have a long history of Irish representation, including former manager Chris Hughton.

Mark Lawrenson was with Albion before making his name at Liverpool and Michael Robinson was famously part of the Brighton team which reached the FA Cup Final in 1983, along with Tony Grealish, Gary Howlett and Gerry Ryan.

Hopefully, Ferguson makes a swift recovery as he looks to follow in those footsteps. 


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